Swell Season singer-songwriter explains duo's relationship
The Swell Season's is a quintessential rags-to-riches story, the kind that is often saved for the movies. And though it may have been the remarkable and somewhat surprising success of their charmingly low-budget movie Once that brought them to the forefront of our collective consciousness, it comes as no surprise that Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová have exactly what it takes to hold their own in the independent music industry.
Between their loving compromise and charismatic personalities, these two performers are the epitome of romanticism. It is hard to imagine that the Swell Season even existed preceding the blow-up of Once, but Irglová and Hansard have known each other for quite a while. They were friends long before they were lovers and musical partners, and their shared history has created a remarkable intimacy that is audible in their music.
"I don't know if I can pick one song that would be best describing us," Irglová says, speaking over the phone in her thick Czech accent and reflecting on her musical partnership with Hansard. She pauses to consider a song she wrote, "I Have Loved You Wrong." "For me the mood of it, not so much the lyrics or anything, but the mood of the piece—just like the letting go, and falling slow."
Rumors of the couple's relationship status have flown around in many different variations after the two fell in love during the filming of Once. Since then, the struggles and fluctuations they have endured have been noticeable amid the forming of their deeply personal and at times heartbreaking songs—but even since they broke up romantically, there is an inherent chemistry present in their live performances.
"Right now, right now we're friends, musical friends," Irglová clarifies. "But you know, he's kind of family to me at this point—I have known him for so many years, he's such a big part of my life. And we've gone through so much together, he's just family now. A brother or whatever you want to call it; I feel like we're blood and related now, if that makes sense."
When asked if their coupledom and subsequent breakup had an effect on their work as the Swell Season, Irglová responds thoughtfully. "It's been years, and you grow as a person throughout the years and you just change. And you can hope for the best, and hope that you grow together with the person and not grow apart. And whatever life throws at you, the challenges that you face together are going to be accepted with grace, or ultimately the willingness to go on with things. And I feel that is how we have dealt with the breakup as well, trying to adjust and concentrate on the friendship, and all of the good things that are shared, rather than the painful things. I am seeing the light in all the situations. I think those are my emotions in all of my songs anyway, whether it's in a song that I wrote inspired by my and Glen's relationship, or in other songs of mine. Somehow I always end up singing about that anyway."
In a review written by Pitchfork, a writer recently stated, "At this point the story is clearly bigger than the band itself." Irglová, however, disagrees. "No, I don't feel that way. The story was ultimately [about] love and a shared friendship between two people, in the film anyway. If that resonated with everyone, accompanied by this music, [then] people obviously enjoyed listening to it." However, she admits that taking their musical chemistry off-screen and bringing it to the stage has a rare kind of appeal. "I think people are intrigued that these two people in the film are actually sharing a connection in real life, and they get to go and experience that during a live gig. Which you don't actually get to see with a film—you can sometimes get to do that with, like, musical films that sometimes end up on Broadway or something, [but] it is an unusual thing to experience that onscreen, and get to go and see the same people do the performance live and realize that they're actually friends, and later lovers in life.
"That's how it started, and we were very much prepared for [it]. The first tour we did after the success of the movie, we were prepared for the fact that although we were playing big rooms and wonderful theaters filled with people that want to hear us play, those people might not come back next year because the story will be over, and there will be some new thing going on that will be of interest. And surprise to us, or something that we hadn't expected or taken for granted, was that the next year we played those same cities, and people were there again. And then we put out another record and people bought that record. There was a point where it was about the film and all this, but now I feel it's about the music, and it's been exciting for us that we can play new songs, and for people to want to hear them and the songs from the film."
Hansard and Irglová now sit among a very minute population of Oscar-winning independent artists, as Hansard himself pointed out in his acceptance speech after winning Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, proclaiming, "Make art, make art!" The duo has proven that even amid all of the trials of musicianship, relationships, and critics, you truly can go from playing a guitar in the streets of Dublin to standing in front of thousands of people confessing your appreciation.
THE SWELL SEASON play on SUNDAY, JULY 25, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.